Small animal positron emission tomography (microPET) has been utilized in the investigation of nociception. However, a possible drawback from previous studies is the reduced activation pattern due to the application of anesthesia. The purpose of the present study was to demonstrate a potential means of avoiding anesthesia during stimulation, as well as minimizing the confounding anesthetic effect. Sodium pentobarbital and ketamine were first evaluated to determine their effect on microPET images in the current study. [ 18F]-Fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) was an appropriate radiotracer to reveal activated regions in rat brains. Pentobarbital anesthesia significantly reduced 18F-FDG uptake in neural tissues, blurrier to lower contrast; therefore, ketamine was used to anesthetize animals during microPET. After the rats were anesthetized and secured in a laboratory-made stereotaxic frame, a simple, noninvasive stereotaxic technique was used to position their heads in the microPET scanner and to roughly conform the images in the stereotaxic atlas. For functional imaging, conscious rats were restrained in cages with minimal ambient noise; short repetitive thermal stimuli were applied to each rat's tail subsequently. The rats were adequately anesthetized with ketamine following 30 min of scanning without stimulation. An activation index (AI) was calculated from microPET data to quantify the local metabolic activity changes according to the normalized 18F-FDG dosage. The average AI indicated a side-to-side difference for all innocuous stimulations in the thalamus. However, such side-to-side difference was only observed for noxious heat and cold stimulations in primary somatosensory cortex (SI), secondary somatosensory cortex (SII), and agranular insular cortex (AIC). The present study demonstrated the feasibility of the microPET technique to image metabolic functions of the conscious rat brain, offering better rationale and protocol designs for future pain studies.
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